So what makes Cafe Cappacino numero uno? "It is one of so few restaurants in Delhi where I can relax. It has ambience like our cafes in Paris," says frequent client and French writer Michel Despratx. Noaccident that. Owner Ritu Dalmiya, who's already conquered the hearts and stomachs of South Delhi gourmets with her Mezza Luna eatery in Hauz Khas Village, and Madhur 'Daisy' Singh worked hard to create an environment where, as they put it, "people feel at home, comfortable, happy. The yeat better. We earn better."
That laidback feeling comes from the jazz singer they invite to perform many weekends, the billiards table that's booked "11 am to 11pm and made us very unpopular with neighbourhood mamas because their boys live here" and the library that invites you to mull while you munch. The very homefolks ambience is further enhanced by the assorted scrabble and chess boards, the paintings displayed on the walls, the easy chairs in cosy corners that invite you to sprawl, read, play, just watch the world go by as you wait for the French leek pie that another regular client, Delhi-based American businessman Roy Schneider, insists is "to die for".
Not French leek pie alone. Patrons swear by the powder puff pastry of the ham and mushroom quiche, wax eloquent about the aromatic "very filling" chicken and cheese vol-au-vent, rave about the lightly sea sonedcarrot cabbage and radish salad that comes as accompaniment. Where the owners score is in the way they've devised a menu that does not leave vegetarian customers feeling ignored or cheated. Bharat Natyam danseuse Deepika Nagarajan puts it succinctly: "Restaurateurs seem to go into mental arrest when devising vegetarian menus. These fellows at least have imaginations that extend beyond cottage cheese and potato salads." That imagination has stretched to include delicious pasta flavoured with pesto (the real stuff), a fragrant mushroom and wine vol- au-vent, a potato salad with a difference that comes with capers and delicious dill flavouring apart from multiple sandwich fill-ing options displayed on the cooking counter. Then there are the imported cheeses—brie, mozzarella, gruyere, fontera—one can feast on and which form the critical ingredient in most of the food served here. But Cappacino's main draw is its coffee section. Dalmiya badgered, wheedled, coaxed, raged before she managed to get her Rs 3 lakh Italian coffee machine past the Indian customs. From which pours out coffee drinkers delights: vanilla and macadamia nut, cappuccino, Brazilian, Irish cream, cafe au lait, even decaffeinated brew for health freaks. Then there are the desserts: snowdrop soft tiramisu, real chocolate cake and thistle light lemon mousse.
All this and more; Wednesday Swiss food and Saturday Thai food special nights; billiards game; a free numbers read from Daisy, popular in-house numerologist, while you wait for your food to arrive, at prices firmly grounded in terra firma. That leek pie for Rs 92, the quiche, tarts vol-au-vents for Rs 80 to Rs 85, the tiramisu for Rs 54, those fragrant coffees for Rs 20 to Rs 45, the billiards game for Rs 20. So much for so little? Says Dalmiya: "We import ingredients, make little on sales prices but we'd much rather skimp on style than substance. Keep the operation small and the customers happy."
Dalmiya sums up her raison d'etre for running an eatery whose revenues don't exactly make her ecstatic: "Cafe Cappacino is not about profit but passion. Daisy and I loved this New York haunt, Mozart's Cafe: friendly, cheap, great food, great atmosphere, whacko clientele. Us included. We missed the place so much that we decided to recreate something similar here. Somewhere people would go not because they need to eat but just because they love being there. By the look of it, we've succeeded." Not many clients would disagree.